Friday, January 20, 2012

Stull #25

It was early morning and Frank was already at the Society entering information into the computer. Frank woke up about two hours ago after a nightmare. Frank never went back to bed after a nightmare.

He left a note for Lana, who was still asleep at his place, explaining he was at work. Frank was currently working on a history of Brothel, Ohio, a small town located about a few miles south of Tontzville. On the surface, Brothel was a simple agricultural town with a shocking name but most of the buildings in the central business district were associated with prostitution.

For a little more than a year, Brothel was allowed to operate normally. But then Tontzville began interfering and wanted the town to shut down. Then, one day in April, the town was burned. The fire was put out but nothing was salvageable. It was soon discovered that all the prostitutes had been murdered and left in the buildings to burn.

It was never discovered who killed the girls, the town was dismantled and forgotten. Frank finished typing and read over what he had written before saving it.

The lights and computer then flickered and shut off. There was a loud rumbling and a series of small explosions followed. The glass in the Society's windows and door shattered and pictures fell off the wall. Frank could hear car alarms in the distance. He got up from his chair and went outside. The stairs to the Society were broken and he could see what looked like a fire just a few blocks away.

Frank took his phone and dialed 9-1-1. After one ring, an operator answered. "Yeah, I'm in Stull and I think there's been an explosion."

The sun was now just sitting over the horizon. It seemed as if every deputy in the county was in Stull, every reporter and just about every citizen and firefighter were standing around the massive hole that had formed along 5th Street destroying much of the town between Ohio and Walnut Streets.

Frank, Katie, John and Lana stood near the sinkhole as well, looking at all the rubble and destruction. "So weird. It almost looks like someone dug underneath the town," Frank said, looking into the hole. "It looks like one elaborate tunnel under here."

"Well, whatever caused it, it destroyed Stull's main road, about a dozen houses, two churches and the ruins of the Old Stull Church," Katie said.

"It also damaged a lot of buildings downtown, including the Society," Frank said. "Is the house okay?" Frank asked Lana, pulling her closer to him.

"Some stuff fell off the wall but I think the house is fine," she replied.

"That is a giant hole! Is everyone all right?" Detective Bilko exclaimed as he and Caitlin approached the group.

"We're all fine. The Society is fine and our houses are fine," Frank said. "Look at this. It's like the ground underneath the city was excavated. Doesn't it look like there are tunnels running underneath?" Frank kneeled down and pointed this out to Detective Bilko.

"But who would do something like that?" Bilko asked. "And didn't they know tunneling would weaken the structural integrity of the ground above? I'm not seeing any evidence they used reinforcement for the tunnels."

"I'm going to get permission to go down there and solve this mystery," Frank said.

"Where are we heading?" John asked as he, Katie and Caitlin drove down a country road in rural Neave Township, just southwest of Tontzville.

"Frank was looking through a box of photos and found a picture of a lost cemetery. Well, actually he found a picture of a lost cemetery's sign," Katie grabbed the picture that was on the dashboard.

John looked at the photo. It was an older black and white picture of a wooden sign with the woods 'Harbour Cemetery.' "So if the cemetery is lost then where are we going?"

"Frank's pretty sure he found it. He found out that the cemetery was bought by a church in 1865. The church closed in 1899. Frank found a newspaper article from 1917 about 'the old St. Benedict Catholic Church' that had a small adjacent cemetery and using maps from back then and now he was able to find the location of St. Benedict Church," Katie explained.

Katie pulled the car over on the side of the road next to a clearing that was flanked on one side by trees along a creek and tilled farmland. The clearing had a dense thicket of trees in the southwest corner.

John, Katie and Caitlin got out of the car and looked at the clearing. "It doesn't look like anything's here..." Caitlin said.

"Doesn't mean there isn't," Katie said. She kneeled down and began taking pictures of the field and trees. She stood and began walking into the clearing. She noticed a couple of concrete slabs and decent-sized rocks lined up in the ground. "I think this is it. The two slabs and these rocks are lined up in three even rows indicating possible burials."

"She's been hanging around Frank way too long," Caitlin whispered to John, who nodded.

They wandered around the cemetery, taking note of all the rocks placed in the ground and the one actual headstone nearly covered by the earth.

"Are we done yet?" Caitlin asked, after they had been there about half an hour. "We have plenty of proof that a cemetery is here and have several dozen pictures. What more do we need?"

"There's something in these trees." Katie said. "It looks like a building."

They walked over to the thicket of trees and saw what they were hiding.

"The ruins of the old church," Katie said and began taking more pictures.

Only three walls were still standing and even those were just partially intact. The church had been closed and abandoned since 1899 and the elements had taken their toll. The foundation was still intact but it was partially covered by dirt making it difficult to discern how big the church was.

"What are you three doing here?" said someone behind them. They all looked to see a man standing near them, pointing a shotgun at them.

Frank stood at the edge of the sinkhole with Detective Bilko and two firemen who volunteered to go with him into the hole. "Thanks for doing this with me," he said.

"You can't go down there alone," Bilko said.

"I'm sure you'd have more volunteers if we knew the hole was stabalized," one of the firefighters said.

"Well, I appreciate you all going down there with me."

The four men were tethered together and Frank led the way down into the sinkhole. All four were amazed by what they saw beyond the rubble. There were buildings built into the earth that held up a layer of dirt and above that dirt was water lines and sewer pipes.

"Oh my God! There is a city underneath Stull!" Frank exclaimed.

As the four climbed down from the rubble, several people came out of the buildings including one Frank recognized immediately.

"Jen!" Frank attempted to run to her but the other three kept him held back. "Are you okay? Are you hurt? I've missed you so much!"

"I'm fine, Frank. The Comchau would never hurt anyone," Jen said and she and Frank hugged.

"The Comchau? I thought they were all extinct, so to speak."

"After our village was burned and our land taken, the Comchau went underground where we were allowed to prosper without white man interference," explained one of the Comchau.

"Why did you take Jen?" Frank demanded.

"To lead you down here. Had we known that wouldn't have worked then we would've just waited for the sky to fall," the Comchau motioned to the rubble.

"Why were you trying to lead us down here?" Bilko asked.

"Like the people of Rock Creek, we are taking our leave," the Comchau replied. "This Earthly plane no longer offers the kind of life we deserve so we must evolve."

"Where are you going?" Frank asked.

The Comchau smiled. "Take your friend and leave."

"Okay. We're gonna get Jen to the surface but we'll be right back," Frank said. "Come on, Jen. Let's get you above ground."

The five of them made their way back up to the surface where Jen was looked at by paramedics. Frank and the others quickly explained the Comchau and more than just four went down into the underground city.

But all they found were the buildings and no sign of the Comchau. "They were able to leave all in a span of ten minutes?" Frank asked. "It isn't possible..."

"This is an extraordinary archeological discovery..." someone said. "And they lived here for over 160 years? Marvelous. The universities will be clamoring to excavate this."

"Then they better submit their proposals to the Rock Creek Township Historical Society," Frank quickly interjected.

"Let's just take it easy," Katie said as she walked over to the man with the gun with her hands up. "I'm Katie. This is John and Caitlin and we're from the Rock Creek Historical Society."

"Rock Creek?" the man lowered his gun. "That's a ways away. Why are you here?"

"We were getting pictures of the cemetery and church. We usually try to get landowner permission but I guess we dropped the ball on that," Katie said.

"Sorry about the gun. I'm Jerry Hey. I own the cemetery land and the surrounding farmland," Jerry introduced. "How'd you know there was a cemetery here?"

"We found a picture and using old maps and newspaper articles figured out where it might be. We were glad to see the cemetery was still around."

"When I bought this land back in the '70s, I attempted to preserve the church and cemetery but no one cared. In 1977, someone set the church on fire so I took down the cemetery sign and stopped bringing attention to it. I've always been kind of proud that I was the only one keeping this cemetery from being completely lost," Jerry said.

"Well, if you wouldn't mind, I'm sure our boss..."

"He's not our boss," John said.

"...would like to help you out in caring for both the cemetery and the church," Katie offered.

"It was a pretty productive day," John said.

"A good day for the Society," Frank said. "I'm so glad that the state agreed the sinkhole and the Comchau underground city should be under our jurisdiction."

"It probably didn't hurt that you offered money to rebuild and realign the county road that was destroyed by the sinkhole," Katie said.

The front door opened and Jen came into Frank's office. "We will see you both tomorrow. Good night, Frank. Welcome home, Jen," John said as he and Katie went to leave the office.

"Thanks, John. It's good to be back above ground," she replied.

Frank and Jen sat alone in silence for few minutes before Frank spoke, "So what brings you here?"

"I broke up with Chris," Jen revealed.

"Oh, that's too bad. Not that I'm horribly upset about it or anything," Frank said.

"I was wondering if I could stay with you for a few days since I don't have a place anymore," Jen said.

"Yeah, I don't care. Have to tell Lana about it, though," Frank said.

"Oh yeah. You're with Lana now."

"Yeah. We got back together, much to Katie's chagrin," he chuckled.

"Well, just so you know, while I was down with the Comchau, all I could think about was you. All I wanted was to be in your arms," Jen revealed. "And now you are with someone else."

"It just happened, Jen. While you were gone, all I wanted to do was hug you but I couldn't. Then Lana came back and it just seemed right that I be with her. But now that you are back and I can touch you and hold you and look into your amazing eyes, there is nothing I want more than to kiss you," Frank revealed.

Jen looked down at the floor. "We should probably get home," she said.

"I agree. We can continue this conversation later," Frank stood up and stretched.

As they headed out the door, Jen placed her hand on Frank's back. "Where's Matt?" she asked.

"I have no idea," Frank laughed.